August 8, 2020 Subject:
Soft Power and Hard Politics
In "Imperial Harem", Professor Pierce has lifted the veil on a fascinating aspect of Ottoman history of the 16th & 17th centuries: the political importance of imperial women and their spouses.
I came to this book out of curiosity about the Ottoman Empire—a topic into which I had not previously delved—and frustration from finding so few books that went beyond generalities. Professor Pierce's study, which is meticulously researched and documented, is most satisfying.
I was especially interested in her account of Suleiman I and the "damad" system, in which, his grand-daughters (primarily) were married to his chief ministers, men who rose in power from a "slave elite" via the Janissary route. As a Roman historian, dealing with the tumultuously dysfunctional family dynamics of the Julio-Claudian emperors, I am fascinated by the concept of a sultan governing successfully by means of a "family cabal", which both broadened the sultanic base of power and made his ministers, not only extremely powerful, but also extremely rich.